Hamas frees 3rd group of hostages under truce

Hamas frees 3rd group of hostages under truce as Netanyahu visits Gaza

/ 02:46 AM November 27, 2023
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, greets soldiers as he visits the Gaza Strip, where he received security briefings with commanders and soldiers and visited one of the tunnels that have been revealed, on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, greets soldiers as he visits the Gaza Strip, where he received security briefings with commanders and soldiers and visited one of the tunnels that have been revealed, on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023. (Photo by AVI OHAON / AVIA via Associated Press)

JERUSALEM — The fragile ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was back on track Sunday as the militants freed 17 more hostages, including 14 Israelis and the first American, in a third set of releases under a four-day truce that the US said it hoped would be extended.

Some hostages were handed over directly to Israel, while others left through Egypt. Israel’s army said one was airlifted directly to a hospital. US President Joe Biden said the elderly woman was “very sick and was in need of immediate medical help.”

The hostages ranged in age from 4 to 84 and included Abigail Edan, a 4-year-old girl whose parents were killed in the Hamas attack that started the war on Oct. 7.


“What she endured was unthinkable,” Biden said of the first American freed, adding he did not know the child’s condition but could confirm she was safely in Israel. He did not have updates on other American hostages and said it was his goal to extend the cease-fire deal as long as possible.


In all, nine children ages 17 and younger were on the list, according to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. Separately, Hamas said it had released a Russian hostage “in response to the efforts of Russian President Vladimir Putin” and as a show of appreciation for Moscow’s position on the war. The Russian-Israeli citizen was the first male hostage to be freed.

Israel’s prison service later said it had begun the process of releasing 39 Palestinian prisoners. A convoy of vehicles was seen leaving Ofer military prison in the occupied West Bank.

A fourth exchange is expected on Monday — the last day of the ceasefire during which a total of 50 hostages and 150 Palestinian prisoners are to be freed. All are women and minors.

International mediators led by the US, Egypt, and Qatar are trying to extend the ceasefire that began Friday.

Ahead of the latest release, Netanyahu visited the Gaza Strip, where he spoke with troops. “We are making every effort to return our hostages, and at the end of the day we will return everyone,” he said, adding that “we are continuing until the end, until victory. Nothing will stop us.” It was not immediately clear where he went inside Gaza.

A break in the fighting

The cease-fire agreement has brought the first significant pause in seven weeks of war, marked by the deadliest Israeli-Palestinian violence in decades and vast destruction and displacement across the Gaza Strip.


More than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed, roughly two-thirds of them women and minors, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza. The war has claimed the lives of more than 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians killed by Hamas in the initial attack.

Hamas and other militant groups seized around 240 people during the incursion into southern Israel that ignited the war. Fifty-eight have been released, one was freed by Israeli forces and two were found dead inside Gaza.

Families from the southern Israeli town of Kfar Aza embraced, cried, and applauded at the news that hostages from their town had arrived in Israel. More than 70 members of the kibbutz of around 700 people were killed and 18 were kidnapped.

“I will be so excited to see her,” Shacher Fuchter, 10, said of her friend Ela Elyakim, Israel’s Channel 12 reported.

Pressure from hostages’ families has sharpened the dilemma facing Israel’s leaders, who seek to eliminate Hamas as a military and governing power while returning all the captives.

Israel has said the truce can be extended by an extra day for every additional 10 hostages freed but has vowed to quickly resume its offensive once it ends. The US said it was working with all sides on the possibility that the deal gets extended to additional hostages.

Hamas commander killed

Hamas announced the death of Ahmed al-Ghandour, who was in charge of northern Gaza and a member of its top military council. He is the highest-ranking militant known to have been killed in the fighting. Israel’s military confirmed the death.

Al-Ghandour, believed to have been around 56 years old, had survived at least three Israeli attempts on his life and was involved in a cross-border attack in 2006 in which Palestinian militants captured an Israeli soldier, according to the Counter Extremism Project, an advocacy group based in Washington.

Hamas said that he was killed along with three other senior militants, including Ayman Siam, who Israel says was in charge of Hamas’ rocket-firing unit. The Israeli military mentioned both men in a Nov. 16 statement, saying it had targeted an underground complex where Hamas leaders were hiding.

The Israeli military claims to have killed thousands of militants, without providing evidence, including several mid-ranking commanders it has identified by name.

Aid and respite in Gaza

The pause has given some respite to Gaza’s 2.3 million people, still reeling from relentless Israeli bombardment that has driven three-quarters of the population from their homes and leveled residential areas. Rocket fire from Gaza militants into Israel also went silent.

War-weary Palestinians in northern Gaza, where the offensive has focused, returned to the streets. Entire city blocks in and around Gaza City have been gutted by airstrikes.

Hundreds of thousands of people from the north have sought refuge in the south. Palestinians who have tried to return to the north to see if their homes are intact have been turned back by Israeli troops.

“They open fire on anyone approaching from the south,” said Rami Hazarein, who fled from Gaza City last month.

The Israeli military has ordered Palestinians not to return to the north or approach within a kilometer (around a half-mile) of the border fence. The Palestinian Red Crescent rescue service said that Israeli forces opened fire Sunday on two farmers in central Gaza, killing one and wounding the other. It didn’t provide further details. An Israeli military spokesperson said they weren’t aware of the incident.

The United Nations said the truce has made it possible to scale up the delivery of food, water, and medicine to the largest volume since the start of the war, though it still hasn’t reached prewar levels. It was able to deliver fuel for the first time since the war began, and to reach areas in the north for the first time in a month.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said 50 Egyptian aid trucks crossed through checkpoints to reach Gaza City and northern areas Sunday.

Hostages for prisoners

The freed hostages have mostly stayed out of the public eye. Hospitals said their physical condition has been good, aside from one who was shot during the attack and required surgery. Little is publicly known about the conditions of their captivity.

Eyal Nouri, the nephew of Adina Moshe, 72, who was freed on Friday, said his aunt “had to adjust to the sunlight” because she had been in complete darkness for weeks.

The released Palestinians included at least two women who had been given long sentences after being convicted by Israeli courts of violent attacks. Many Palestinians view prisoners held by Israel, including those implicated in attacks, as heroes resisting occupation.

The war in Gaza has been accompanied by a surge in violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Palestinian health authorities said Sunday that five Palestinians were killed in an Israeli military raid in the northern West Bank city of Jenin that began the day before. The toll in the West Bank is now 239 since the war began.

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The Israeli army has conducted frequent military raids and arrested hundreds of Palestinians since the start of the war, mostly people it suspects of being Hamas members.

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